tv Studio 1.0 Bloomberg May 25, 2015 6:30am-7:01am EDT
emily: he invented the self driving car, is considered the godfather of artificial intelligence. he cofounded google x, google's innovation laboratory. broadband balloons to connect the internet in the stratosphere. now, thrun is on to his greatest ambition yet, democratizing a higher education, by sharing knowledge with people that can't afford it via the internet. joining me on "studio 1.0," inventor, professor, and founder, sebastian thrun. thank you so much for joining us.
i thought we could start our interview wearing google glass because you have been a big part of it. how often do you wear these? sebastian: mostly outdoors, out and about. with my kids. when i go bicycling and hiking. i love having it with me. emily: what is the most surprising thing you have done wearing google glass? sebastian: you know, i had this ambition to make a device that you can wear all day. in every situation. and, it is, for me, it is awkward in a personal conversation. this is something that excites me much more when i'm out and about. emily: there is a stigma against wearing google glass. there is a word for it called "glasshole." sebastian: i think it is a new technology, and i remember there used to be a time when you took a cell phone call, they would ask you out. because it was such an alien technology.
i think there is acceptance necessary for people to get used to it. emily: will we be wearing something like this in the future? sebastian: i absolutely believe that something like this will be in the future. because if you look at computing as a whole, this is so immediate. you take pictures from your own perspective, it is the closest you come short of having surgery of the human brain and implanting something in your brain. emily: do you think it will be more of a consumer or enterprise product? sebastian: we will be testing it out with surgeons and medical personnel. but eventually, it is hard to predict. but if we succeed, i think that many, many people will be wearing it in many situations. it will be a normal thing to wear. emily: if you could grade it, how successful has it been? sebastian: i still believe that it needs another iteration or two. in my opinion. we are learning as we try it out with people. we are refining it. emily: are our brains ready for this kind of technology? or will they ever be ready? sebastian: i think that what we are seeing is that more and more people are working in this context at almost the same time. whether it is good or bad -- there are advantages and disadvantages.
the immediacy of being able to take a picture with a wink is quite amazing. i feel that the more we can unify the digital and physical world, the more exciting it will be. emily: i want to talk to you about how you became a guy who was wearing google glass who helped invent google glass. you were born in germany. tell me about your parents, how you grew up? sebastian: i have no clue how i got to where i am. i had a very happy family. my brother and sister got the majority of attention from my parents. i was youngest. my parents later told me that i wasn't really planned. the result was that i ended up spending a lot of time on my own. i played alone a lot and i made my own rules. so for example, when i was in the seventh grade, i made myself a challenge to never ever do homework again. so instead of doing it, i would copy from my fellow students and i made it all the way through high school diplomas. i feel that there was a challenge missing. i learned to be skeptical
towards any sort of fixed set of rules. emily: when did you learn how to code? sebastian: when i was 14 or 13, i saved all of my money to buy a programmable calculator. and i would sit there all afternoon. and punch in little digits and work on little programs. emily: even though you did not do your homework, you racked up quite a few degrees for a guy who is trying to disrupt education. you have a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, and a phd. sebastian: i completely got into college, because for the first time in my life, i felt empowered to make my own decisions. emily: you are considered a godfather of artificial intelligence. i wonder, how did you gravitate towards that? sebastian: there are so many shades of truth in real life that really fascinate me. i studied philosophy for a while, i studied medicine for a while. a little bit of various humanities disciplines. because i wanted to get to what made feelings. to me, artificial intelligence was the best place to be.
it was the best place to be because you could make intelligent things and understand them. emily: what did you experiment with? sebastian: crazy things. at one point, i got a rubik's cube and i wanted to solve it. and i wrote a computer program to solve it. and then that i worked a lot on machine learning. on making robots smart. making robots catch balls. later in my life, i started working on robots to give tours to kids in museums. stuff like that. emily: google has been interested in artificial intelligence for a long time. apple and facebook are hiring ai people. why do you think all of these companies are doing this? sebastian: it is the thing to do right now. we are at the brink of making computers much smarter than people. there is enormous economic benefit. just imagine that you could make a white-collar worker a thousand times more effective. it would transform society. and that is what artificial intelligence is, it is making machines really smart. picking what we do as people
best and augmenting it. emily: will machines replace people? sebastian: i think they are in so many ways. emily: is this always a good thing? sebastian: we continue to live longer, safer, better. as a result. emily: if machines can do everything for us, in the future, what can we do? sebastian: we have to find more sophisticated jobs or we have to work less. at the end of the day, we have to engage and have an enjoyable life. and produce children. that is very human. i do not think that will be replaced by machines. emily: do you want to live in a world where machines do everything including think better than us? sebastian: i already live in a world where machines think better than me. ♪
providing computer software, i am completely out of date. i would not be able to survive a google software engineer interview. emily: if google would not hire you, who are they hiring? sebastian: they have a fantastic number of applicants. over 2 million people are applying. and they get to pick and choose the very best. emily: is this part of what inspired udacity? sebastian: what inspired udacity is my history of learning. i always believed that you learn by doing. i wanted to learn how to build a self driving car so i built one. i didn't go to school to hear a professor talk about it. emily: peter teal is encouraging people not to go to school at all. to start companies instead. sebastian: i am not advising anyone to skip college. we love to think of learning as a lifelong project that we do. as larry would say, use it like toothbrush, twice a day. we have companies like google and facebook and many others sending instructors to us. emily: all of the classes are online.
sebastian: everything is online. emily: how much do they cost? sebastian: they are free. you can go to each class and take it for free. but if you care about a mentor, if you care about feedback and the certificate, you pay 150 bucks a month. the most recent one we are launching is called a nano degree. emily: will apple, google hire me with a nano degree? sebastian: at&t has already earmarked jobs specifically for this purpose. without disclosing details, you will notice more announcements forthcoming from leading tech companies in silicon valley. emily: how did they feel about online education in general? sebastian: since they started working with universities, fewer people are angry at me. and i understand changing the cost structure of education does ruffle feathers. but you have to transform this and make the university system fit people's needs. emily: what is your vision for higher education? 20 years from now, will a degree
from stanford and harvard be something coveted? sebastian: i think that 20 years from now, the great people in the world will still carry the great credentials. m.i.t., harvard. and hopefully, if you make it, which i hope, udacity. emily: why leave a great job at google to focus on one of the hardest problems in the world? that is, education. sebastian: to me, the mission of being able to educate is the biggest thing i can imagine. if i ask myself, how did we change, fundamentally change the planet, empowering people is is a basic human right. there should be a constitutional amendment saying that everybody has a right to a full education. emily: how do you think you can change the world if you change education? sebastian: i think if education is democratized, there will be fewer wars. less conflict. emily: if you succeed, are you saying that we would not be in iraq or there would not be
conflict in ukraine? sebastian: at the core, i believe that most people want the same thing. they want stability. they want safety. and they want the ability to unfold their potential. to contribute. that is cut off if you cannot participate. you cannot play. emily: something else that you think is broken is transportation. tell me about the self driving car. how did that start? sebastian: when i was 18, i lost a neighbor and the neighbor was driving with a friend. and a friend was driving his dad's brand-new car and made a mistake on ice, a split second mistake. they killed them both on the spot. i always felt this kind of notion of having 18-year-olds drive crazy cars or the fact that we lose about a million, 1.2 million people every year on this planet due to traffic accidents, that was wrong. we should not just accept it. we have the technology to do it.
why do we not make cars safer? emily: how did you invent the car? sebastian: first of all, i didn't invent the car, i had a fantastic team of people. it started out with a fantastic challenge that the u.s. government defined. in 2005. the darpa grand challenge. they said at the time that whoever could build a car that could drive itself from los angeles to las vegas would win a million dollars. i put a team together. about a handful of students and i built a car that would drive the course. emily: and you did. sebastian: this has to be slightly faster than anybody else. which gave us the first prize. emily: i think that is called winning. i rode in the self driving car about four years ago. sebastian: i remember. emily: how far has it come since then? sebastian: at this point, i confidently tell you it drives better than me. if you were to drive with me, then you would beg me for the car to take over because it keeps the lane much better, it brakes more gently. it anticipates things much
faster than i can. emily: would you drive in a self driving car with your family across the country? sebastian: i have done this many times. i have a vacation time in lake tahoe and i've taken my family up many times. of course, i am behind the wheel as a safety mechanism. emily: have you ever had any issues? any problems? sebastian: of course. in the early days, we had no experience in the rain. because we live in california. the first thing we had this water splashing up, it looked like phantom cars hopping up left and right and all of a sudden it goes into braking mode. emily: the car gets scared. sebastian: now, on highways, you can drive about 100,000 miles. emily: there is a classic dilemma that philosophers debate called the trolley problem. if the car is on track and is it about to hit and kill five people, should it be programmed to veer off the road and kill the driver or stay the course? and kill those people? sebastian: right now, we programmed the car to never get in a situation where it could kill five people. if it is in that situation, it will go for the smaller thing. emily: what does that mean?
sebastian: if there are two things to hit, it would hit the smaller thing. the car would not know that there are five people in the other car. it thinks of the environment as moving objects are to be avoided. we have situations where i was leading the team and the car had to face the couch and it was hard for it to drive around. now we are at the point where we have programmed the right evasion behavior in. emily: what if it is not a couch, if it is a human being? does it know the difference between things and people? sebastian: it knows about categories. it knows about bicyclists, pedestrians, cars. emily: now, there is a different iteration of the car that you and i drove in which is a car that does not even have the steering wheel. how is that car doing? sebastian: that is google's most audacious step forward and this was initiated after sergey brin, the google cofounder, took over google x. and the idea here is that we have a car that drives in the
city and provides transportation services, like a taxi without a driver. it is making amazing progress. i hope in the next three years you will see them. emily: to what extent was that car a pivot from your car? sebastian: it was a pivot. i was more interested in highway driving. i felt that 86% of transportation takes place on highways. but it turns out there are many car companies on the same topic. i commend sergey for taking the audacious view by saying that if you can solve inner-city driving you can solve so much of transportation. and you can possibly eliminate car ownership of the way that we know it. i think it is a great vision. emily: when will we see self driving cars on the road on a grand scale? sebastian: i think it will happen fast. i think that within 15 years you can see cities full of self driving cars where transportation is really on demand. where you do not have to own a car. emily: i want to talk about when larry page met you because he
actually came to the darpa challenge. right? sebastian: right, larry came to the darpa challenge. for me, he is one of the rare people that inspires me. he teaches me new things every time i see him. emily: how did they get you to come to google? sebastian: i was at the point where i really wanted to explore what it means to work in silicon valley. so i started a team that basically built a street view technology. he stopped by and said, hey, join google. so we joined google. emily: at what point did larry and sergei say, hey, we also want to do self driving cars? and you know something about that. sebastian: larry really came to me and said, it is time to do something courageous. that is really out there, a moonshot. he had to convince me. he said build a car that can drive itself safer than humans. i said that it is hard. he said well, give it a try. i said, ok. larry said give it a try. do not blame me if i screw it up.
emily: you helped found google x, the moonshot factory. how did that come about? sebastian: i drank the kool-aid. like, i was at the point where i waved away all the skepticism and said just do it and see what happens. it turns out that the google leadership, they are kind of the same personality. they said, absolutely yes. i came up with this name, google x. one of the first things we attempted was google last -- glass. it literally waited two kilograms. emily: two kilograms on your face. sebastian: it was a backpack. then we strapped cellphones to my glasses and my nose would get crushed. it took a whole bunch of iterations to make it something you can actually wear in normal life. emily: some of the other projects, project loon, the effort to connect the world via the lens that float around in the atmosphere.
sebastian: that is another one of these crazy moonshots that you have to be a believer to even attempt it. and just by sheer thinking about it, this idea came up that they could actually launch balloons. and attach satellite-like equipment to balloons. the downside of balloons is they are exposed to wind. emily: what is the potential? sebastian: the potential is an entire internet up in the air and they have the balloons over a set of very low costs that provide unprecedented bandwidth and coverage to places they would never get coverage today like the center of africa. or the ocean. the vision is to bring the internet everywhere. this is to make a level playing field. so that everyone in the world has a chance. emily: facebook is trying to connect the world in different ways. who wins, google or facebook? sebastian: i would never comment on that. [laughter] emily: what about the medical contact lenses? sebastian: it turns out, contact lenses, when you think about it, they are big enough to hold an array for receiving energy, putting the sensor on.
putting a communication device on. it is very feasible. we are building google x contact lenses that can measure your glucose level. emily: what about trying to cure death, calico? sebastian: this did not come from google x. but it is another audacious moonshot. i have to say this is what i admire google for. there are no people around that lived for 200 years and we don't understand why. there is actually very little research done as compared to research on curing cancer. i think it is a perfectly fine proposition to say, let's give it a try. if google succeeds in finding a remedy for old age dying, i would say that they have done something fantastic for the world. and they will make a dime or two as well. emily: what kind of things do you explore if you are trying to extend our lives to 200 years? sebastian: there is a lot of genetic information that is interesting. we know, for example that our cells have some kind of counter built-in. we also know that we produce new cells. the counter gets reset in interesting ways. a lot of potential to think about what is the information that manifests aging?
emily: you think we will see this in our lives? sebastian: yes, i believe we will. emily: what is the brainstorming session inside google x like? sebastian: i can tell you, every time i am around the founders, i feel dumb. and you have to have thick skin. for how smart these guys really are. emily: google x sounds fun but how does it make sense as a business? if these businesses might not return capital for many years. sebastian: first of all, recently, google x had its first capital event by licensing the contact lens to medical device companies. but, more so, just imagine that you could solve the problem of transportation. no one drives anymore and you free up all be time and build the true self-driving car. that is as valuable as google. the amount of money invested into this is relatively small, but it is a drop in the bucket. if it succeeds, it could be as big as google.
i'm surprised that others are not taking the same bets. emily: how deep does larry's support for google x go? sebastian: it is just the beginning. this is in the founder's dna. which is to be crazy innovative. emily: silicon valley is accused of being too arrogant. do you think there's is too much arrogance? sebastian: there is arrogance. and there is arrogance with me. it is our strength and our weakness. without it, we could not be innovative. emily: what do you want to be? -- remembered for? sebastian: hopefully being a good husband and father more than anything else. emily: you must be the coolest dad. are you building robots in the backyard? sebastian: i care about doing something i've never done before. that is the drug in my life. so i want to do this in a way that really advances humanity and brings people forward. emily: sebastian thrun, thank you for joining us on this edition of "studio 1.0." it was great to see you so great to have you here. ♪
♪ emily: it has been called the harvard of silicon valley. y combinator is perhaps the most prestigious start-up incubator in the world. it has funded more than 700 companies to date, including dropbox, airbnb, and stripe. but behind the start up machine is a couple with their own start up story. how did they build y combinator into what it is today? joining me today on this edition of "studio 1.0," y combinator founders and husband-and-wife paul graham and jessica livingston. thank you so much for joining us. jessica: thank you.